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Albania - Land of the Eagles


Albania, officially known as the Republic of Albania, is a country in Southeastern Europe. It is bordered by Montenegro to the northwest, Kosovo (Disputed) to the northeast, Macedonia to the east and Greece to the south and southeast. It has a coast on the Adriatic Sea to the west, and on the Ionian Sea to the southwest. It is less than 72 km (45 mi) from Italy, across the Strait of Otranto which links the Adriatic Sea to the Ionian Sea.

Albania is a parliamentary democracy with a transition economy. The Albanian capital, Tirana, is home to 421,286 of the country's 2,831,741 people. Free-market reforms have opened the country to foreign investment, especially in the development of energy and transportation infrastructure.
Albania was chosen as the No.1 Destination in Lonely Planet's list of ten top countries to visit for 2011.
 
Geography



Albania has a total area of 28,748 square kilometers. It lies between latitudes 39° and 43° N, and mostly between longitudes 19° and 21° E (a small area lies east of 21°). Albania's coastline length is 611 km (380 mi):240 and extends along the Adriatic and Ionian Seas. The lowlands of the west face the Adriatic Sea. The 70% of the country that is mountainous is rugged and often inaccessible from the outside. The highest mountain is Korab situated in the district of Dibër, reaching up to 2,753 metres (9,032 ft). The climate on the coast is typically Mediterranean with mild, wet winters and warm, sunny, and rather dry summers.

Inland conditions vary depending on altitude, but the higher areas above 1,500 m/5,000 ft are rather cold and frequently snowy in winter; here cold conditions with snow may linger into spring. Besides the capital city of Tirana, which has 800,000 inhabitants, the principal cities are Durrës, Korçë, Elbasan, Shkodër, Gjirokastër, Vlorë and Kukës. In Albanian grammar, a word can have indefinite and definite forms, and this also applies to city names: both Tiranë and Tirana, Shkodër and Shkodra are used.

The three largest and deepest tectonic lakes of the Balkan Peninsula are partly located in Albania. Lake Shkodër in the country's northwest has a surface which can vary between 370 km2 (140 sq mi) and 530 km2, out of which one third belongs to Albania and rest to Montenegro. The Albanian shoreline of the lake is 57 km (35 mi). Ohrid Lake is situated in the country's southeast and is shared between Albania and Republic of Macedonia. It has a maximal depth of 289 meters and a variety of unique flora and fauna can be found there, including "living fossils" and many endemic species. Because of its natural and historical value, Ohrid Lake is under the protection of UNESCO. There is also Butrinti Lake which is a small tectonic lake. It is located in the national park of Butrint.
 
Climate



With its coastline facing the Adriatic and Ionian seas, its highlands backed upon the elevated Balkan landmass, and the entire country lying at a latitude subject to a variety of weather patterns during the winter and summer seasons, Albania has a high number of climatic regions relative to its landmass. The coastal lowlands have typically Mediterranean weather; the highlands have a Mediterranean continental climate. In both the lowlands and the interior, the weather varies markedly from north to south.

The lowlands have mild winters, averaging about 7 °C (45 °F). Summer temperatures average 24 °C (75 °F). In the southern lowlands, temperatures average about 5 °C (9 °F) higher throughout the year. The difference is greater than5 °C (9 °F) during the summer and somewhat less during the winter.

Inland temperatures are affected more by differences in elevation than by latitude or any other factor. Low winter temperatures in the mountains are caused by the continental air mass that dominates the weather in Eastern Europe and the Balkans. Northerly and northeasterly winds blow much of the time. Average summer temperatures are lower than in the coastal areas and much lower at higher elevations, but daily fluctuations are greater. Daytime maximum temperatures in the interior basins and river valleys are very high, but the nights are almost always cool. 



Average precipitation is heavy, a result of the convergence of the prevailing airflow from the Mediterranean Sea and the continental air mass. Because they usually meet at the point where the terrain rises, the heaviest rain falls in the central uplands. Vertical currents initiated when the Mediterranean air is uplifted also cause frequent thunderstorms. Many of these storms are accompanied by high local winds and torrential downpours.

When the continental air mass is weak, Mediterranean winds drop their moisture farther inland. When there is a dominant continental air mass, cold air spills onto the lowland areas, which occurs most frequently in the winter. Because the season's lower temperatures damage olive trees and citrus fruits, groves and orchards are restricted to sheltered places with southern and western exposures, even in areas with high average winter temperatures.

Lowland rainfall averages from 1,000 millimeters (39.4 in) to more than 1,500 millimeters (59.1 in) annually, with the higher levels in the north. Nearly 95% of the rain falls in the winter. Rainfall in the upland mountain ranges is heavier. Adequate records are not available, and estimates vary widely, but annual averages are probably about 1,800 millimeters (70.9 in) and are as high as 2,550 millimeters (100.4 in) in some northern areas. The western Albanian Alps (valley of Boga) are among the wettest areas in Europe, receiving some 3,100 mm (122.0 in) of rain annually. The seasonal variation is not quite as great in the coastal area.

The higher inland mountains receive less precipitation than the intermediate uplands. Terrain differences cause wide local variations, but the seasonal distribution is the most consistent of any area. In 2009 an expedition from University of Colorado discovered four small glaciers in the 'Cursed' mountains in North Albania. The glaciers are at the relatively low level of 2,000 meters – almost unique for such a southerly latitude.
 
Flora and fauna



Although a small country, Albania is distinguished for its rich biological diversity. The variation of geomorphology, climate and terrain create favorable conditions for a number of endemic and sub-endemic species with 27 endemic and 160 sub endemic vascular plants present in the country. The total number of plants is over 3250 species, approximately 30% of the entire flora species found in Europe.

Over a third of the territory of Albania – about 10,000 square kilometers (2.5 million acres) – is forested and the country is very rich in flora. About 3,000 different species of plants grow in Albania, many of which are used for medicinal purposes.Phyto-geographically, Albania belongs to the Boreal Kingdom and is shared between the Adriatic and East Mediterranean provinces of the Mediterranean Region and the Illyrian province of the Circumboreal Region. Coastal regions and lowlands have typical Mediterranean macchia vegetation, whereas oak forests and vegetation are found on higher altitudes. Vast forests of black pine, beech and fir are found on higher mountains and alpine grasslands grow at altitudes above 1800 meters.



According to the World Wide Fund for Nature and Digital Map of European Ecological Regions by the European Environment Agency, the territory of Albania can be subdivided into three ecoregions: the Illyrian deciduous forests, Pindus Mountains mixed forests and Dinaric Alpine mixed forests. The forests are home to a wide range of mammals, including wolves, bears, wild boars and chamois. Lynx, wildcats, pine martens and polecats are rare, but survive in some parts of the country.

There are around 760 vertebrate species found so far in Albania. Among these there are over 350 bird species, 330 freshwater and marine fish and 80 mammal species. There are some 91 globally threatened species found within the country, among which the Dalmatian pelican, Pygmy cormorant, and the European sea sturgeon. Rocky coastal regions in the south provide good habitats for the endangered Mediterranean monk seal.

Some of the most significant bird species found in the country include the golden eagle – known as the national symbol of Albania – vulture species, capercaillie and numerous waterfowl. The Albanian forests still maintain significant communities of large mammals such as the brown bear, gray wolf, chamois and wild boar. The north and eastern mountains of the country are home to the last remaining Balkan Lynx – a critically endangered population of the Eurasian lynx.
 
Demographics



According to the 2011 Census results, the total population of Albania is 2,821,977. Its population is relatively young by European standards, with a median age of 28.9 years. The fall of the Communist regime in 1990 Albania was accompanied with massive migration. External migration was prohibited in Communist Albania while internal one was quite limited, hence this was a new phenomenon. Between 1991 and 2004, roughly 900,000 people have migrated out of Albania, about 600,000 of them settling in Greece. Migration greatly affected Albania's internal population distribution. Population decreased mainly in the North and South of the country while increased in Tirana and Durrës center districts.

Issues of ethnicity are a delicate topic and subject to debate. "Although official statistics have suggested that Albania is one of the most homogenous countries in the region (with an over 97 per cent Albanian majority) minority groups (such as Greeks, Macedonians, Montenegrins, Roma and Vlachs/Aromanians) have often questioned the official data, claiming a larger share in the country’s population."
The last census that contained ethnographic data (before the 2011 one) was conducted in 1989.

According to the 2011 census the population of Albania declared the following ethnic affiliation: Albanians 2,312,356 or 82,58%, Greeks 24,243 or 0,87%, Macedonians 5,512 or 0,20%, Montenegrins 366 or 0,01%, Aromanians 8,266 or 0,30%, Romani 8,301 or 0,30%, Balkan Egyptians 3,368 or 0,12%, Other 2,644 or 009%, Undeclared 390,938 or 13,96%, Not relevant 44,144 or 1,58%. Macedonian and some Greek minority groups have sharply criticized Article 20 of the Census law, according to which a $1,000 fine will be imposed on anyone who will declare an ethnicity other than what is stated on his or her birth certificate. This is claimed to be an attempt to intimidate minorities into declaring Albanian ethnicity, according to them the Albanian government has stated that it will jail anyone who does not participate in the census or refuse to declare his or her ethnicity. Genc Pollo, the minister in charge has declared that: "Albanian citizens will be able to freely express their ethnic and religious affiliation and mother tongue. However, they are not forced to answer these sensitive questions". The amendments criticized do not include jailing or forced declaration of ethnicity or religion, only a fine is envisioned which can be overthrown by court. Greek representatives part of the Albanian parliament and government invited their co-ethnics to register as the only way to improve their status. On the other hand, nationalists,as well as intellectuals, various organizations and, political parties in Albania have expressed their concern that the census might artificially increase the number of Greek minority which might be then exploited by Greece and threaten Albania's territorial integrity. Large parts of Albanians, similarly fear irredentist claims on northern Epirus following Albanians changing their nationality to Greek due to monetary and other benefits.

Albania recognizes three national minorities, Greeks, Macedonians and Montenegrins, and two cultural minorities, Aromanians and Romani people. Other Albanian minorities are Bulgarians, Gorani, Serbs, Balkan Egyptians, Bosniaks and Jews. Regarding the Greeks, "it is difficult to know how many Greeks there are in Albania. The Greek government, it is typically claimed, says that there are around 300,000 ethnic Greeks in Albania, but most western estimates are around 200,000 mark (although EEN puts the number at a probable 100,000). The Albanian government puts the number at only 60,000." The CIA World Factbook estimates the Greek minority at 3% of the total population and the US State Department uses 1.17% for Greeks and 0.23% for other minorities.
 
Language

Albanian is the official language of Albania. Its standard spoken and written form is revised and merged from the two main dialects, Gheg and Tosk; though, it is notably based more on the Tosk dialect. Shkumbin River is the rough dividing line between the two dialects. Also a dialect of Greek that preserves features now lost in standard modern Greek is spoken in areas inhabited by the Greek minority. Other languages spoken by ethnic minorities in Albania include Vlach, Serbian, Macedonian, Bosnian, Bulgarian, Gorani, and Roma. Macedonian is official in Pustec Municipality in East Albania. According to the 2011 population census, 2,765,610 or 98.767% of the population declared Albanian as their mother tongue ("mother tongue is defined as the first or main language spoken at home during childhood").
 
Religion 


The 2011 Census had declared the following religious affiliations: 56.7% Islam, 10.03% Roman Catholic, 6.75% Albanian Orthodox, 5.49% Unaffiliated, 2.5% Atheist, 2.09% Bektashi, 0.14% Protestant/Evangelical.
The CIA World Factbook gives a distribution of 70% Muslims, 20% Eastern Orthodox, and 10% Roman Catholics. A Pew Research Center demographic study from 2009 put the percentage of Muslims in Albania at 79.9%. In 2009 According to the World Christian Encyclopedia, 38.8% of Albanians are Muslim, 16.1% Orthodox, 16.8% Roman Catholics and Nonreligious 16.6%. According to the US State Department, estimates for active participation in religious services are between 25 and 40%. Gallup Global Reports 2010 shows that religion plays a role to 39% of Albanians, and puts Albania in the list of the 14 least religious countries in the world, with Albania the thirteenth least religious country in the world.

The Albanians first appear in the historical record in Byzantine sources of the late-11th century. At this point, they were already fully Christianised. Christianity was later overtaken by Islam during the centuries of Ottoman rule. After independence (1912) from the Ottoman Empire, the Albanian republican, monarchic and later Communist regimes followed a systematic policy of separating religion from official functions and cultural life. Albania never had an official state religion either as a republic or as a kingdom. In the 20th century, the clergy of all faiths was weakened under the monarchy, and ultimately eradicated during the 1940s and 1950s, under the state policy of obliterating all organized religion from Albanian territories.

The Communist regime that took control of Albania after World War II persecuted and suppressed religious observance and institutions and entirely banned religion to the point where Albania was officially declared to be the world's first atheist state. Religious freedom has returned to Albania since the regime's change in 1992. Albanian Muslim populations (mainly secular and of the Sunni branch) are found throughout the country whereas Orthodox Christians are concentrated in the south and Roman Catholics are found in the north of the country. No reliable data are available on active participation in formal religious services, but estimates range from 25% to 40%.

The first recorded Albanian Protestant was Said Toptani, who traveled around Europe, and in 1853 returned to Tirana and preached Protestantism. He was arrested and imprisoned by the Ottoman authorities in 1864. Mainline evangelical Protestants date back to the work of Congregational and later Methodist missionaries and the work of the British and Foreign Bible Society in the 19th century. The Evangelical Alliance, which is known as VUSh was founded in 1892. Today VUSh has about 160 member congregations from different Protestant denominations. VUSh organizes marches in Tirana including one against blood feuds in 2010. Bibles are provided by the Interconfessional Bible Society of Albania. The first full Albanian Bible to be printed was the Filipaj translation printed in 1990.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church sent its first missionaries into Albanian territory as early as 1909. Following decades of communist repression, The Albanian Mission of Seventh-day Adventists was re-established in Tirana in 1992 and has now over 10 churches and groups throughout the country. Its humanitarian wing, the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) is renown for being the first humanitarian organization to enter post-communist Albania. There are about 4,000 active Jehovah's Witnesses in Albania.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS or 'Mormons') involvement in Albania began with humanitarian aid during the 1990s. The first missionaries were sent in 1992 with the Albania Tirana Mission being opened in 1996. As of 2008, there were nearly 2,000 members of the LDS church in Albania, spread throughout ten branches with two purpose-built chapels and one Family History Center.
 
Education

Before the establishment of the People's Republic, Albania's illiteracy rate was as high as 85%. Schools were scarce between World War I and World War II. When the People's Republic was established in 1945, the Party gave high priority to wiping out illiteracy. As part of a vast social campaign, anyone between the ages of 12 and 40 who could not read or write was mandated to attend classes to learn. By 1955, illiteracy was virtually eliminated among Albania's adult population. Today the overall literacy rate in Albania is 98.7%; the male literacy rate is 99.2% and female literacy rate is 98.3%. With large population movements in the 1990s to urban areas, the provision of education has undergone transformation as well. The University of Tirana is the oldest university in Albania, founded in October 1957.

Miss Universe Albania 2012:
http://cdn.missuniverse.com/media/photos/galleries/gallery_photo1353945129Albania.jpg

Algeria - Land of Sun, Sea and Sand




Algeria, officially the People's Democratic Republic of Algeria, Al-Jumhūriyyah Al-Jazāʾiriyyah Ad-Dīmuqrāṭiyyah Ash-Shaʿbiyyah; also formally referred to as the Democratic and Popular Algerian Republic, is a country in the Maghreb region of Africa. Its capital (and most populous city) is Algiers. The territory of today's Algeria was the home of many ancient cultures, including Aterian and Capsian cultures. Its area has been ruled by many empires and dynasties, including ancient Numidians, Carthaginians, Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, Arab Umayyads, Fatimids, Berber Almohads and later Turkish Ottomans.


Algeria is a semi presidential republic consisting of 48 provinces and 1541 communes. With a population exceeding 37 million, it is the 34th most populated country on Earth. Its economy is oil based, suffering from Dutch disease. Sonatrach, the national oil company, is the largest company in Africa. Algeria has the second largest army in Africa, after Egypt, and has Russia and China as strategic allies, and arms furnisher.


With a total area of 2,381,741 square kilometres (919,595 sq mi), Algeria is the tenth-largest country in the world and the largest in Africa, after the secession of South Sudan on the 9th of July 2011 from Sudan, the latter being the former biggest country in Africa. The country is bordered in the northeast by Tunisia, in the east by Libya, in the west by Morocco, in the southwest by Western Sahara, Mauritania, and Mali, in the southeast by Niger, and in the north by the Mediterranean Sea. As of 2012, Algeria has an estimated population of 37.1 million. Algeria is a member of the African Union, the Arab League, OPEC and the United Nations, and is a founding member of the Arab Maghreb Union.
Geography



Algeria is the largest country in Africa, the Arab world, and the Mediterranean Basin. Its southern part includes a significant portion of the Sahara. To the north, the Tell Atlas form with the Saharan Atlas, further south, two parallel sets of reliefs in approaching eastbound, and between which are inserted vast plains and highlands. Both Atlas tend to merge in eastern Algeria. The vast mountain ranges of Aures and Nememcha occupy the entire northeastern Algeria and are delineated by the Tunisian border. The highest point is Mount Tahat (3,003 m).

Algeria lies mostly between latitudes 19° and 37°N (a small area is north of 37°), and longitudes 9°W and 12°E. Most of the coastal area is hilly, sometimes even mountainous, and there are a few natural harbors. The area from the coast to the Tell Atlas is fertile. South of the Tell Atlas is a steppe landscape ending with the Saharan Atlas; farther south, there is the Sahara desert. The Ahaggar Mountains, also known as the Hoggar, are a highland region in central Sahara, southern Algeria. They are located about 1,500 km (932 mi) south of the capital, Algiers, and just west of Tamanghasset. Algiers, Oran, Constantine, Tizi Ouzou and Annaba are Algeria's main cities.

 
Climate and hydrology




In this region, midday desert temperatures can be hot year round. After sunset, however, the clear, dry air permits rapid loss of heat, and the nights are cool to chilly. Enormous daily ranges in temperature are recorded. The highest official temperature was 50.6 °C (123.1 °F) at In Salah. Rainfall is fairly plentiful along the coastal part of the Tell Atlas, ranging from 400 to 670 mm (15.7 to 26.4 in) annually, the amount of precipitation increasing from west to east. Precipitation is heaviest in the northern part of eastern Algeria, where it reaches as much as 1,000 mm (39.4 in) in some years.

Farther inland, the rainfall is less plentiful. Prevailing winds that are easterly and north-easterly in summer change to westerly and northerly in winter and carry with them a general increase in precipitation from September through December, a decrease in the late winter and spring months, and a near absence of rainfall during the summer months. Algeria also has ergs, or sand dunes, between mountains. Among these, in the summer time when winds are heavy and gusty, temperatures can get up to 110 °F (43.3 °C).

 
Fauna and Flora




The varied vegetation of Algeria includes coastal, mountainous and grassy desert-like regions which all support a wide range of wildlife. Many of the creatures comprising the Algerian wildlife live in close proximity to civilization. The most commonly seen animals include the wild boars, jackals, and gazelles, although it is not uncommon to spot Fennec (foxes), and jerboas. Algeria also has a few panther, leopard and cheetah populations, but these are seldom seen.


A variety of bird species makes the country an attraction for bird watchers. The forests are inhabited by boars and jackals. Barbary macaques are the sole native monkey. Snakes, monitor lizards, and numerous other reptiles can be found living among an array of rodents throughout the semi arid regions of Algeria. Many animals are now extinct, among which the Barbary lions and bears.


In the north, some of the native flora includes Macchia scrub, olive trees, oaks, cedars and other conifers. The mountain regions contain large forests of evergreens (Aleppo pine, juniper, and evergreen oak) and some deciduous trees. Fig, eucalyptus, agave, and various palm trees grow in the warmer areas. The grape vine is indigenous to the coast. In the Sahara region, some oases have palm trees. Acacias with wild olives are the predominant flora in the remainder of the Sahara. Camels are used extensively; the desert also abounds with poisonous and nonpoisonous snakes, scorpions, and numerous insects.
Demographics


As of a January 2010 estimate, Algeria's population was 34.9 million, who are mainly Arab-Berber ethnically. At the outset of the 20th century, its population was approximately four million. About 90% of Algerians live in the northern, coastal area; the inhabitants of the Sahara desert are mainly concentrated in oases, although some 1.5 million remain nomadic or partly nomadic. More than 25% of Algerians are under the age of 15. Women make up 70% of the country's lawyers and 60% of its judges, and also dominate the field of medicine. Increasingly, women are contributing more to household income than men. Sixty percent of university students are women, according to university researchers.

USCRI estimates that 95,700 refugees and asylum-seekers have sought refuge in Algeria. This includes roughly 90,000 from Western Sahara and 4,100 from Palestine. Between 90,000 and 165,000 Sahrawis from Western Sahara live in the Sahrawi refugee camps, in western Algerian Sahara desert. As of 2009, 35,000 Chinese migrant workers lived in Algeria. The largest concentration of Algerian migrants outside Algeria is in France, which has reportedly over 1.7 million Algerians of up to the 2nd generation.
Languages




Modern Standard Arabic is the official language. Algerian Arabic (Darja) is the language used by the majority of the population. The dialectic variant was also influenced by the French language. Berber is spoken by one fourth of the population and has been recognized as a "national language" by the constitutional amendment since 8 May 2002. The Kabyle language, the predominant Berber language, is taught and is partially co-official (with a few restrictions) in parts of Kabylie.

Although French has no official status, Algeria is the second Francophone country in the world in terms of speakers and French is still widely used in the government, the culture, the media (newspapers) and the education system (since primary school) due to Algeria's colonial history. It can be regarded as being the De facto co-official language of Algeria. In 2008, 11.2 million Algerians could read and write in French. Algeria emerged as a bilingual state after 1962. Colloquial Algerian Arabic is spoken by about 72% of the population and Berber by 27-30%.

 
Religion


Islam is the predominant religion with 99% of the population. Almost all Algerian Muslims follow Sunni Islam, with the exception of some 200,000 Ibadis in the M'zab Valley in the region of Ghardaia. There are an estimated 10,000 Christians in Algeria as of 2008. Nearly all of Algeria's Jewish community emigrated following the country's independence, although a very small number of Algerian Jews continue to live in Algiers.

Education




Since the 1970s, in a centralized system that was designed to significantly reduce the rate of illiteracy, the Algerian Government introduced a decree by which the school became compulsory for all children aged between 6 and 15 years who have the ability to track their learning through the 20 facilities built since independence, now the literacy rate is around 78.7%.


Since 1972, Arabic is used as the language of instruction during the first nine years of schooling. From the third year, French is taught and it is also the language of instruction for science classes. The students can also learn English, Italian, Spanish and German. In 2008, new programs at the elementary appeared, therefore the compulsory schooling does not start at the age of six anymore, but at the age of five. Apart from the 122 private, learning at school, the Universities of the State are free of charge. After nine years of primary school, students can go to the high school or to an educational institution. The school offers two programs: general or technical. At the end of the third year of secondary school, students pass the exam of the Bachelor's degree, which allows once it is successful to pursue graduate studies in universities and institutes.


Education is officially compulsory for children between the ages of six and 15. In 2008, the illiteracy rate for people over 10 was 22.3%, 15.6% for men and 29.0% for women. The province with the lowest rate of illiteracy was Algiers Province at 11.6%, while the province with the highest rate was Djelfa Province at 35.5%.


Algeria has 26 universities and 67 institutions of higher education, which must accommodate a million Algerians and 80,000 foreign students in 2008. The University of Algiers, founded in 1879, is the oldest, it offers education in various disciplines (law, medicine, science and letters). 25 of these universities and almost all of the institutions of higher education were founded after the independence of the country.


Even if some of them offer instruction in Arabic like areas of law and the economy, most of the other sectors as science and medicine continue to be provided in French and English. Among the most important universities, there are the University of sciences and technology Houari Boumediene, the University of Mentouri Constantine, Oran Es-Senia University. Best universities of qualifications remain the University of Tlemcen and Batna Hadj Bereket, they occupy the 26th and 45th row in Africa, which is a very bad standing.

Miss Globe Algeria 2012:

 

Afghanistan - Land of Conflict and Beauty


Afghanistan , officially the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, is a landlocked country forming part of South Asia,Central Asia,and to some extent Western Asia. With a population of around 30 million, it has an area of 647,500 km2 (250,001 sq mi), making it the 42nd most populous and 41st largest nation in the world. It is bordered by Pakistan in the south and the east, Iran in the west, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan in the north, and China in the far northeast.

Three decades of war made Afghanistan the world's most dangerous country, including the largest producer of refugees and asylum seekers. While the international community is rebuilding war-torn Afghanistan, terrorist groups such as the Haqqani Network and Hezbi Islami are actively involved in a nationwide Taliban-led insurgency, which includes hundreds of assassinations and suicide attacks. According to the United Nations, the insurgents were responsible for 80% of civilian casualties in 2011 and 2012.
 
Geography and Climate

A landlocked mountainous country with plains in the north and southwest, Afghanistan is described as being located within South Asia or Central Asia. It is part of the Greater Middle East Muslim world, which lies between latitudes29° N and 39° N, and longitudes60° E and 75° E. The country's highest point is Noshaq, at 7,492 metres (24,580 feet) above sea level. It has a continental climate with very harsh winters in the central highlands, the glaciated northeast (around Nuristan) and the Wakhan Corridor, where the average temperature in January is below −15 °C (5 °F), and hot summers in the low-lying areas of the Sistan Basin of the southwest, the Jalalabad basin in the east, and the Turkestan plains along the Amu River in the north, where temperatures average over 35 °C (95 °F) in July. 



Despite having numerous rivers and reservoirs, large parts of the country are dry. The endorheic Sistan Basin is one of the driest regions in the world. Aside from the usual rain falls, Afghanistan receives snow during winter in the Hindu Kush and Pamir Mountains, and the melting snow in the spring season enters the rivers, lakes, and streams. However, two-thirds of the country's water flows into neighboring countries of Iran, Pakistan, and Turkmenistan. The state needs more than US$2 billion to rehabilitate its irrigation systems so that the water is properly managed.

The northeastern Hindu Kush mountain range, in and around the Badakhshan Province of Afghanistan, is in a geologically active area where earthquakes may occur almost every year. They can be deadly and destructive sometimes, causing landslides in some parts or avalanche during winter.The last strong earthquakes were in 1998, which killed about 6,000 people in Badakhshan near Tajikistan. This was followed by the 2002 Hindu Kush earthquakes in which over 150 people of various regional countries were killed and over 1,000 injured. The 2010 earthquake left 11 Afghans dead, over 70 injured and more than 2,000 houses destroyed.

The country's natural resources include: coal, copper, iron ore, lithium, uranium, rare earth elements, chromite, gold, zinc, talc, barites, sulfur, lead, marble, precious and semi-precious stones, natural gas, and petroleum among other things. In 2010, US and Afghan government officials estimated that untapped mineral deposits located in 2007 by the US Geological Survey are worth between $900 billion and $3 trillion.
 
At 652,230 square kilometers (251,830 sq mi), Afghanistan is the world's 41st largest country, slightly bigger than France and smaller than Burma, about the size of Texas in the United States. It borders Pakistan in the south and east, Iran in the west, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan in the north, and China in the far east.

Education

Education in the country includes K-12 and higher education, which is supervised by the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Higher Education. The nation's education system was destroyed due to the decades of war, but it began reviving after the Karzai administration came to power in late 2001. More than 5,000 schools were built or renovated, with more than 100,000 teachers being trained and recruited. It was reported in 2011 that more than seven million male and female students were enrolled in schools.



As of 2011, about 82,000 students are enrolled in different universities around the country.Kabul University reopened in 2002 to both male and female students. In 2006, the American University of Afghanistan was established in Kabul, with the aim of providing a world-class, English-language, co-educational learning environment in Afghanistan. The capital of Kabul serves as the learning center of Afghanistan, with many of the best educational institutions being based there. Major universities outside of Kabul include Kandahar University in the south, Herat University in the northwest, Balkh University in the north, Nangarhar University and Khost University in the eastern zones, as well as a number of others. The National Military Academy of Afghanistan, modeled after the United States Military Academy at West Point, is a four-year military development institution dedicated to graduating officers for the Afghan armed forces. The $200 million Afghan Defense University is under construction near Qargha in Kabul. The United States is building six faculties of education and five provincial teacher training colleges around the country, two large secondary schools in Kabul and one school in Jalalabad.

Literacy rate of the entire population is low, around 28%. Female literacy may be as low as 10%. In 2010, the United States began establishing a number of Lincoln learning centers in Afghanistan. They are set up to serve as programming platforms offering English language classes, library facilities, programming venues, Internet connectivity, educational and other counseling services. A goal of the program is to reach at least 4,000 Afghan citizens per month per location. The military and national police are also provided with mandatory literacy courses. In addition to this, Baghch-e-Simsim (based on the American Sesame Street) was launched in late 2011 to help Afghan children learn from preschool and onward.

Demographics
 

As of 2012, the population of Afghanistan is around 30,419,928, which includes the roughly 2.7 million Afghan refugees still living in Pakistan and Iran. In 1979, the population was reported to be about 15.5 million. The only city with over a million residents is its capital, Kabul. The other largest cities in the country are, in order of population size, Kandahar, Herat, Mazar-i-Sharif, Jalalabad, Lashkar Gah, Taloqan, Khost, Sheberghan, Ghazni, and so on. Urban areas are experiencing rapid population growth following the return of over 5 million expats. According to the Population Reference Bureau, the Afghan population is estimated to increase to 82 million by 2050.
 
Languages

Pashto and Dari (Persian) are the official languages of Afghanistan, making bilingualism very common. Both are Indo-European languages from the Iranian languages sub-family. Persian has always been the prestige language and as the main means of inter-ethnic communication, maintaining its status of lingua franca. It is the native tongue of the Tajiks, Hazaras, Aimaks and Kizilbash. Pashto is the native tongue of the Pashtuns, although many Pashtuns often use Persian and some non-Pashtuns are fluent in Pashto.

Other languages, such as Uzbek, Arabic, Turkmen, Balochi, Pashayi and Nuristani languages (Ashkunu, Kamkata-viri, Vasi-vari, Tregami and Kalasha-ala), are used as native tongue by minority groups across the country and have official status in the regions where they are widely spoken. Minor languages also include Pamiri (Shughni, Munji, Ishkashimi and Wakhi), Brahui, Hindko, Kyrgyz, etc. Small percent of Afghans are also fluent in Arabic, Urdu, English, and other languages
.

Religion

Over 99% of the Afghan population is Muslim: approximately 80–85% follow the Sunni sect, 15–19% are Shi'a, and 1% other. Until the 1890s, the region around Nuristan was known as Kafiristan (land of the kafirs) because of its inhabitants: the Nuristanis, an ethnically distinctive people who practiced animism, polytheism and shamanism. Apart from Muslims, there are also small minorities of Christians, Buddhist, Parsi, Sikhs and Hindus. There was also a small Jewish community in Afghanistan who emigrated to Israel and the United States by the end of the last century, and only one individual by the name of Zablon Simintov remains today.


Miss Globe Afghanistan 2012:

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/37/Zallascht_Sadat_Miss_Afghanistan_-_e.jpg 

Abkhazia - Land of Darkness

Map centered on the Caucasus indicating Abkhazia (orange)and the rest of Georgia (grey).


Abkhazia is a disputed territory on the eastern coast of the Black Sea and the south-western flank of the Caucasus. Abkhazia considers itself an independent state, called the Republic of Abkhazia or Apsny. This status is recognised by Russia, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Nauru, Tuvalu and Vanuatu and also by the partially recognised state of South Ossetia, and the unrecognized Transnistria and Nagorno-Karabakh.

The Georgian government and the majority of the world's governments consider Abkhazia a part of Georgia's territory. Under Georgia's official designation it is an autonomous republic, called the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia, whose government sits in exile in Tbilisi.

The status of Abkhazia is a central issue of the Georgian–Abkhazian conflict. The wider region formed part of the Soviet Union until 1991. As the Soviet Union began to disintegrate towards the end of the 1980s, ethnic tensions grew between Abkhaz and Georgians over Georgia's moves towards independence. This led to the 1992–1993 War in Abkhazia that resulted in a Georgian military defeat, De facto independence of Abkhazia and the mass exodus and ethnic cleansing of the Georgian population from Abkhazia. In spite of the 1994 ceasefire agreement and years of negotiations, the status dispute has not been resolved, and despite the long-term presence of a United Nations monitoring force and a Russian-dominated Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) peacekeeping operation, the conflict has flared up on several occasions. In August 2008, the sides again fought during the South Ossetia War, which was followed by the formal recognition of Abkhazia by Russia, the annulment of the 1994 cease fire agreement and the termination of the UN and CIS missions. On 28 August 2008, the Parliament of Georgia passed a resolution declaring Abkhazia a Russian-occupied territory.

Geography and climate

Abkhazia covers an area of about 8,600 km2 (3,320 sq mi) at the western end of Georgia.The Caucasus Mountains to the north and the northeast divide Abkhazia and the Russian Federation. To the east and southeast, Abkhazia is bounded by the Georgian region of Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti; and on the south and southwest by the Black Sea.

Abkhazia is extremely mountainous. The Greater Caucasus Mountain Range runs along the region's northern border, with its spurs – the Gagra, Bzyb and Kodori ranges – dividing the area into a number of deep, well-watered valleys. The highest peaks of Abkhazia are in the northeast and east and several exceed 4,000 meters (13,123 ft) above sea level. Abkhazia's landscape ranges from coastal forests and citrus plantations to permanent snows and glaciers in the north of the region. Although Abkhazia's complex topographic setting has spared most of the territory from significant human development, its cultivated fertile lands produce tea, tobacco, wine and fruits, a mainstay of the local agricultural sector.


Abkhazia is richly irrigated by small rivers originating in the Caucasus Mountains. Chief of these are: Kodori, Bzyb, Ghalidzga, and Gumista. The Psou River separates the region from Russia, and the Inguri serves as a boundary between Abkhazia and Georgia proper. There are several periglacial and crater lakes in mountainous Abkhazia. Lake Ritsa is the most important of them.

The world's deepest known cave, Krubera (Voronja) Cave ("The Crows' Cave"), is located in Abkhazia's western Caucasus mountains. The latest survey (as of September 2006) has measured the vertical extent of this cave system as 2,158 meters (7,080 ft) between its highest and lowest explored points.

Because of Abkhazia's proximity to the Black Sea and the shield of the Caucasus Mountains, the region's climate is very mild. The coastal areas of the republic have a subtropical climate, where the average annual temperature in most regions is around 15 °C (59 °F). The climate at higher elevations varies from maritime mountainous to cold and summer less. Abkhazia receives high amounts of precipitation, but its unique micro-climate (transitional from subtropical to mountain) along most of its coast causes lower levels of humidity. The annual precipitation vacillates from 1,100–1,500 mm (43.3–59.1 in) along the coast 1,700–3,500 mm (66.9–137.8 in) in the higher mountainous areas. The mountains of Abkhazia receive significant amounts of snow.

There are two border crossings into Abkhazia. The southern border crossing is at the Inguri bridge, a short distance from the Georgian city of Zugdidi. The northern crossing ("Psou") is in the town of Gyachrypsh. Owing to the ongoing security situation, many foreign governments advise their citizens against travelling to Abkhazia.

Demographics

According to the last census in 2011 Abkhazia has 240,705 inhabitants. The exact size of Abkhazia's population was unclear. According to the census carried out in 2003 it measured 215,972 people,but this is contested by Georgian authorities. The Department of Statistics of Georgia estimated Abkhazia's population to be approximately 179,000 in 2003, and 178,000 in 2005 (the last year when such estimates were published in Georgia). Encyclopedia Britannica estimates the population in 2007 at 180,000 and the International Crisis Group estimates Abkhazia's total population in 2006 to be between 157,000 and 190,000 (or between 180,000 and 220,000 as estimated by UNDP in 1998).

Religion

 Religion in Abkhazia (2003)


religion

percent
Christianity
  
60%
Islam
  
16%
Paganism
  
8%
Other religions
  
2%
Irreligious or atheist
  
8%
Undetermined
  
6%


Most inhabitants of Abkhazia are Christian (Eastern Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic), Sunni Muslim or irreligious, but few people who declare themselves Christian or Muslim attend religious service.The traditional Abkhaz religion has undergone a strong revival in recent decades.There is a very small number of adherents of Judaism, Jehovah's Witnesses and new religious movement. The Jehovah's Witnesses organization has officially been banned since 1995, though the decree is not currently enforced. According to the constitutions of both Abkhazia and Georgia, the adherents of all religions (as well as atheists) have equal rights before the law. According to a survey held in 2003, 60% of respondents identified themselves as Christian, 16% as Muslim, 8% as atheist or irreligious, 8% as adhering to the traditional Abkhazian religion or as Pagan, 2% as follower of other religions and 6% as undecided.

Land of Darkness

The Land of Darkness was a mythical land supposedly enshrouded in perpetual darkness. It was usually said to be in Abkhazia and was officially known as Hanyson or Hamson (or some variation; the name apparently comes from the Hamshen area of Turkey), or simply the Forest of Abkhazia. The Land of Darkness enjoyed popularity in fictional medieval travel literature such as the Alexander Romance and the Travels of Sir John Mandeville. According to Mandeville, no one ventures into Hanyson out of fear, but the people in the surrounding area know it to be populated, as they can hear human voices inside. The residents of Hanyson are the descendants of Persian Emperor Saures (Shapur II) and his men, who were trapped there forever by a miracle of God. Saures had been persecuting his Christian subjects in Abkhazia, and had cornered them on a plain. They prayed to God, and God responded by surrounding the king's armies in the thick, impenetrable darkness that still affected the land. The Land of Darkness was also identified with the area around the northern Ural Mountains.When Abu Hamid al-Gharnati visited Volga Bulgaria in 1135-36 he was told that the Land of Darkness was not far from Yugra. In the 1320s Ibn Battuta was in the same area and wanted to visit the Land of Darkness but decided not to because it required a 40-day journey on 'small wagons drawn by large dogs.'

Austria - Land Of Research


Austria, officially the Republic of Austria, is a landlocked country of roughly 8.4 million people in Central Europe. It is bordered by the Czech Republic and Germany to the north, Slovakia and Hungary to the east, Slovenia and Italy to the south, and Switzerland and Liechtenstein to the west. The territory of Austria covers 83,855 square kilometers (32,377 sq mi) and has a temperate and alpine climate. Austria's terrain is highly mountainous due to the presence of the Alps; only 32% of the country is below 500 meters (1,640 ft), and its highest point is 3,798 meters (12,461 ft). The majority of the population speaks German,which is also the country's official language. Other local official languages are Croatian, Hungarian and Slovene.

The origins of Austria today date back to the time of the Hapsburg dynasty as a part of the Holy Roman Empire of German Nation; Austria became one of the great powers of Europe. In 1867, the Austrian Empire was reformed into Austria-Hungary. The Hapsburg (Austro-Hungarian) Empire collapsed in 1918 with the end of World War I, Austria used the name German Austria in attempt for union with Germany but was forbid due to the Treaty of Saint Germain. The First Austrian Republic was established in 1919. In the 1938 Anschluss, Austria was occupied and annexed by Nazi Germany. This lasted until the end of World War II in 1945, after which Nazi Germany was occupied by the Allies and Austria's former democratic constitution was restored. In 1955, the Austrian State Treaty re-established Austria as a sovereign state, ending the occupation. In the same year, the Austrian Parliament created the Declaration of Neutrality which declared that the Second Austrian Republic would become permanently neutral.

Today, Austria is a parliamentary representative democracy comprising nine federal states.The capital and largest city, with a population exceeding 1.6 million, is Vienna. Austria is one of the richest countries in the world, with a nominal per capita GDP of $43,723 (2010 est.). The country has developed a high standard of living and in 2010 was ranked 25th in the world for its Human Development Index. Austria has been a member of the United Nations since 1955, joined the European Union in 1995,and is a founder of the OECD. Austria also signed the Schengen Agreement in 1995, and adopted the European currency, the euro, in 1999.

Geography



Austria is a largely mountainous country due to its location in the Alps.The Central Eastern Alps, Northern Limestone Alps and Southern Limestone Alps are all partly in Austria. Of the total area of Austria (84,000 km2 or 32,433 sq mi), only about a quarter can be considered low lying, and only 32% of the country is below 500 metres (1,640 ft). The Alps of western Austria give way somewhat into low lands and plains in the eastern part of the country.

It can be divided into five areas, the biggest being the Eastern Alps, which constitute 62% of nation's total area. The Austrian foothills at the base of the Alps and the Carpathians account for around 12% and the foothills in the east and areas surrounding the periphery of the Pannoni low country amount to about 12% of the total landmass. The second greater mountain area (much lower than the Alps) is situated in the north. Known as the Austrian granite plateau, it is located in the central area of the Bohemian Mass and accounts for 10% of Austria. The Austrian portion of the Vienna basin comprises the remaining 4%.

Climate


The greater part of Austria lies in the cool/temperate climate zone in which humid westerly winds predominate. With over half of the country dominated by the Alps, the alpine climate is the predominant one. In the east—in the Pannonian Plain and along the Danube valley—the climate shows continental features with less rain than the alpine areas. Although Austria is cold in the winter (−10 – 0 °C), summer temperatures can be relatively warm, with average temperatures in the mid-20s and record temperatures in the mid to high 30s° C(68°Fahrenheit).

Demographics



Austria's population estimate in January 2011 was 8,404,252.The population of the capital, Vienna, exceeds 1.6 million(2.2 million including the suburbs), representing about a quarter of the country's population. It is known for its vast cultural offerings and high standard of living.

Vienna is by far the country's largest city. Graz is second in size, with 250,099 inhabitants, followed by Linz (188,968), Salzburg (150,000), and Innsbruck (117,346). All other cities have fewer than 100,000 inhabitants.

Language

German, Austria's official language, is spoken natively by 88.6% of the population—followed by Turkish (2.3%), Serbian (2.2%), Croatian (1.6%), Hungarian (0.5%), Bosnian (0.4%) and Slovenian (0.3%).

According to census information published by Statistik Austria for 2001 there were a total of 710,926 foreign nationals living in Austria. Of these, 124,392 speak German as their mother tongue (mainly immigrants from Germany, some from Switzerland and South Tyrol, Italy). The next largest populations of linguistic and ethnic groups are 283,334 foreign nationals from the former Yugoslavia (of whom 135,376 speak Serbian; 105,487 Croatian; 31.551 Bosnian; 6,902 Slovenian and 4,018 Macedonian); 123,417 speak Turkish; 25,155 English; 24,446 Albanian; 17,899 Polish; 14,699 Hungarian; 12,216 Romanian; 7,982 Arabic; 6,891 Slovak; 6,707 Czech; 5,916 Persian; 5,677 Italian; 5,466 Russian; 5,213 French; 4,938 Chinese; 4,264 Spanish; 3,503 Bulgarian. The populations of the rest fall off sharply below 3,000. Between 200,000 and 300,000 ethnic Turks (including minority of Turkish Kurds) currently live in Austria. They are the largest single immigrant group in Austria, closely followed by the Serbs.

Religion

At the end of the 20th century, about 74% of Austria's population were registered as Roman Catholic,while about 5% considered themselves Protestants. Since the second half of the 20th century, the number of adherents and churchgoers has started declining. Data for the end of 2005 from the Austrian Roman Catholic church lists 5,662,782 members, or 68.5% of the total Austrian population, and a Sunday church attendance of 753,701 or 9% of the total Austrian population. Data for the end of 2008 published by the Austrian Roman Catholic church shows a further reduction to 5,579,493 members or 66.8% of the total Austrian population, and a Sunday church attendance of 698,527 or 8% of the total Austrian population.

About 12% of the population declared that they have no religion. in 2001. Of the remaining people, around 340,000 are registered as members of various Muslim communities, mainly due to the influx from Turkey, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo. About 180,000 are members of Orthodox Churches (mostly Serbs), more than 20,000 are active Jehovah's Witnesses and about 8,100 are Jewish.

Education

Responsibility for educational in Austria is entrusted partly to the Austrian states (Bundesländer) and partly to the federal government. School attendance is compulsory for nine years, i.e. usually to the age of fifteen.

Kindergarten education, free in most states, is provided for all children between the ages of three and six years and, whilst optional, is considered a normal part of a child's education, due to its high take up rate. Maximum class size is around 30, each class normally being cared for by one qualified teacher and one assistant. Standard attendance times are 8 am to 12 am, with extra afternoon care also frequently provided for a fee.

Primary education, or Volksschule, lasts for four years, starting at age six. Maximum class size is 30, but may be as low as 15. It is generally expected that a class will be taught by one teacher for the entire four years and the stable bond between teacher and pupil is considered important for a child's well-being. The so called "3Rs"(Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic) dominate lesson time, with less time allotted to project work than in the UK. Children work individually and all members of a class follow the same plan of work. There is no streaming. Lessons begin at 8 am and last until noon or 1 pm with hourly five- or ten-minute breaks. Children are given homework daily from the first year. Historically there has been no lunch hour, with children returning home to eat. However, due to a rise in the number of mothers in work, primary schools are increasingly offering pre-lesson and afternoon care. As in Germany, secondary education consists of two main types of schools, attendance at which is based on a pupil's ability as determined by grades from the primary school. The Gymnasium caters for the more able children, in the final year of which the Matura examination is taken, which is a requirement for access to university. The Hauptschule prepares pupils for vocational education but also for various types of further education (Höhere Technische Lehranstalt HTL = institution of higher technical education; HAK = commercial academy; HBLA = institution of higher education for economic business; etc.). Attendance at one of these further education institutes also leads to the Matura. Some schools aim to combine the education available at the Gymnasium and the Hauptschule, and are known as Gesamtschulen. In addition, a recognition of the importance of learning English has led some Gymnasiums to offer a bilingual stream, in which pupils deemed able in languages follow a modified curriculum, a portion of the lesson time being conducted in English.

The Austrian university system had been open to any student who passed the Matura examination until recently. A 2006 bill allowed the introduction of entrance exams for studies such as Medicine. In 2001, an obligatory tuition fee ("Studienbeitrag") of €363.36 per term was introduced for all public universities. Since 2008, for all EU students the studies have been free of charge, as long as a certain time-limit is not exceeded (the expected duration of the study plus usually two terms tolerance). When the time-limit is exceeded, the fee of around €363.36 per term is charged. Some further exceptions to the fee apply, e.g. for students with a year's salary of more than about €5000. In all cases, an obligatory fee of €15.50 for the student union and insurance is charged

Miss World Austria 2012:

http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-RXmWth_UQnY/T_coGKFtMZI/AAAAAAAAjDs/TGkEPo9T9lg/s1600/amina-dagi-miss-austria-world-2012-11.jpg 

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